Last summer, Israel’s agriculture minister made news when he said his country could begin growing enough medical marijuana to export to other countries within “two years.” Would you believe he was wrong—by being too conservative by half?
This week, Hebrew-language newspaper Yediot Ahronot reported that a collection of key government officials are set to recommend Israel start exporting medical marijuana. There are interested parties in “dozens of countries,” and, according to several other news sources, talks with potential overseas buyers have already begun.
No countries currently export marijuana in its raw form. British-based pharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceuticals produces and markets prescription drugs derived from cannabis, and various countries offer hemp and hemp-based products on the international market, but the export of THC-laden cannabis is a new frontier. In Canada, the only country where a federal government permits commercial cultivation of medical marijuana, the government is expressly opposed to an international trade in cannabis.
That would leave Israel with the market to itself. Cannabis exports could fetch the country $264 million a year, according to some government estimates, and Israeli cannabis farming could be an industry that supports thousands of jobs.
Israel has long been the international hub for medical-marijuana research. An Israeli researcher first isolated THC, and then Raphael Mechoulam discovered the body’s endocannabinoid system as a bonus.
As fast as states in America have moved on marijuana in 2016, Israel has moved even faster. This summer, the government relaxed restrictions on growing cannabis for the country’s estimated 23,000 patients—a number that could grow, quickly, as more doctors are now allowed to recommend the drug.
The state has also removed restrictions on the number of growers allowed to produce cannabis, which could soon be available in pharmacies in the country, the Times of Israel reported.
While lawmakers and law enforcement officers whine about a lack of research or say outright that cannabis is still harmful, cannabis’s efficacy as a treatment for cancer and AIDS has been proven “beyond doubt” in Israel, at least as far as the country’s government is concerned.
According to Yediot Ahronot’s report, three out of four key government ministers are on board with advancing the export plan, with only the minister of public security opposed. Gilad Erdan has concerns that marijuana grown for medical purposes could “flood the local market with easily available cannabis for non-medical use.” An occupational hazard that, thus far, every place with medical cannabis has been able to survive.
There are a few more hurdles to clear before Israel-grown cannabis becomes an international commodity. The Knesset, the country’s legislative body, would have to write laws allowing for more farmers to grow the drug, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet would also have to sign off on the deal.
Then there’s the biggest obstacle of them all: The United States. Israel is the U.S.’s most faithful ally, but both countries are signatories to a U.N. treaty that declares marijuana a dangerous drug. The U.S. has in the past used the treaty as cause to threaten other countries pondering relaxing drug laws, but so far, the U.S. has stood silently by as Israel’s cannabis export plans have progressed.
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